Portland 15 unbeaten, first in West after win over Colorado

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Had you stopped the match after 10 minutes, you would have never guessed Colorado would lose 3-0. They were clearly the better side, putting three shots toward Donovan Ricketts during a start that hinted the host’s 14-game unbeaten run was in serious jeopardy.

But as is so often the case in this sport, one moment changed everything. That moment came in the 12th minute when a Rodney Wallace cross was hammered home by Frédéric Piquionne. Eighty minutes later, after Will and Ryan Johnson goals, the Timbers had a 3-0 victory, the type of decisive result many would have predicted before the opening kickoff.

Winless in four, Colorado have started to fade after a May push cast them as dark horse playoff contenders. Yet the Rapids may be falling victim to the one thing that undoes so many upstarts: Respect. After catching some by surprise during their strong start, Colorado lost the ability to sneak up on anyone. The result’s been a fall to earth.

It’s a testament to Portland’s staying power that they’ve avoided the same fate. After all, the Timbers were one of two teams to finish below the Rapids in last year’s Western Conference standings. They’re just as susceptible to the surprise team paradox as Colorado.

Of course, Portland is a much changed team from last year, with the value of all so many of their new parts on display Sunday. Confident goalkeeping from Ricketts helped weather the early storm while enabling decisive play from newly acquired Pa-Modou Kah. Will Johnson’s role as a fulcrum in midfield was evident as the Timbers established themselves after Piquionne’s goal, while Diego Valeri’s skill continues to be crucial as a focal point linking the attack.

Then there are the holdovers – players who’ve almost across-the-board improved this season. Back playing fullback, Jack Jewsbury has been a needed insurance policy for a depleted central defense. Diego Chara has gone a long way to justifying his Designated Player spot, while Darlington Nagbe continues to tap into on his seemingly unlimited potential. All three continued their strong seasons on Sunday.

And of course, there’s Rodney Wallace. The Costa Rican became a topic of conversation recently when he failed to make MLS’s All-Star Ballot, a testament to the suddenly deep Portland squad. On Sunday, the left-sider provided his counter point, recording the first assist on all three Timbers goals.

The result leaves the Timbers even on points with Real Salt Lake at the top of the Western Conference. A proclivity for draws technically puts Portland in second place, but with only one loss, they’re also the most difficult team in the league to beat.

Now 107 days and 15 matches without a loss, Caleb Porter’s men have gone from answering questions to posing their inquiries of their own: Who will be the next team to beat the Portland Timbers?

 

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.